Basic Terms and Definitions

Driver License: Any license to operate a motor vehicle issued under the laws of this state. By statute and decisional law, the Department of Public Safety holds the sole and exclusive authority to issue, suspend, cancel, or revoke an Alabama driver license or driving privilege1.

Alabama driver licenses are issued by classification. The standard, or general, driver license is a class D license which authorizes the holder to operate a non-commercial motor vehicle on the public highways of this state, which may be subject to certain restrictions.

Driver license classes A, B, and C are Commercial Driver Licenses2 (CDL) which are issued as an endorsement to the class D license. An applicant for a CDL must first hold a valid class D license, be at least 21 years of age3, hold a valid medical certificate that complies with the specifications listed in Title 49 Code of Federal Regulations, and must pass the written and driving examination designed for the class of CDL requested.

Driver License class M is a motorcycle only driver license and does not authorize the operation of a four wheel vehicle. A class M license with a ‘B’ restriction is designed for motor-driven cycles and may be issued to a 14 or 15 year old.

Driving Privilege: The authorization to operate a motor vehicle on the public highways of the state of Alabama, although the motorist may be unlicensed or licensed in another state.

Suspension of Driver License: Suspension of driver license or privilege is the temporary or limited time period removal of a driver license or privilege. Suspension actions may be discretionary or mandatory, depending on the statute authorizing the suspension action. Reinstatement of driver license following a suspension order is generally accomplished upon completion of specified compliance requirements, such as settling an unpaid or ‘outstanding’ traffic violation, or the serving a limited duration license removal as a consequence of a conviction, and the payment of the required reinstatement fee to the Department of Public Safety.

Revocation of Driver License: Revocation of driver license is the complete and full removal driver license or privilege. Revocation is nearly always the result of a conviction of a serious traffic offense and is generally a mandatory duty of the Director of Public Safety4. After serving the revocation period, the affected individual must make formal application for a new driver license after serving the required period of revocation. In addition, the applicant for re-licensing after revocation must comply with the Safety Responsibility Law5, pay the applicable reinstatement fees, and successfully pass the driver license examination.

The Code of Alabama does not establish a fixed time period when the revocation order expires or the motorist can make an application for re-licensing. However, the Administrative Code for the state of Alabama, in section 760-X-1-.02, Reinstatement of Driving Privileges After Revocation states the following: “The Director of Public Safety, at any time after the expiration of six months from the date of revocation, may reinstate the driving privilege of any person whose privilege of driving a motor vehicle has been revoked…”

Unless otherwise specified by statute, such as the one year revocation period specified in 32-5A-191(f) for second offense DUI, or the three year revocation period specified in 32-5A-191(g) for third offense DUI, the general term of revocation is six (6) months for each revocation order.

Each license removal must be served in succession, with the first license removal action served in full before the second removal action starts, even if the second (or third) license removal is entered before the first removal is fully served. In the recent case of Alabama Department of Public Safety v. Barbour, 5 So. 3d 601 (Ala. Civ. App. 2008), the Court of Civil Appeals held in a case of first impression in this state that driver license revocation periods run consecutively, and not concurrently. Therefore, the Department of Public Safety’s method of “stacking” each license removal action into a consecutive period of license removal was valid.

Cancellation of Driver License: The annulment or termination by formal action of the Director of Public Safety of the person’s driver license because of error or defect in the application process. (Generally, the applicant failed to disclose a pre-existing suspension or license removal action in another state and the Department of Public Safety did not discover this pre-existing condition until the National Driver Register issued notice to the license state.) A cancellation is neither a suspension nor a revocation, but a type of license removal that requires the disqualified licensee to clear the previous state before being eligible to hold an Alabama driver license.

Driver License Compact (Existing): The Driver License Compact (DLC) is an interstate compact entered by the various states to exchange information concerning license suspensions and traffic violations of non-residents and forward them to the state where the motorist is licensed, known as the home state. The home state will treat the offense as if it had been committed at home, applying home state laws to the out-of-state offense. Currently, 45 of the 50 states are members of the Driver License Compact. [See, enclosed map listing DLC and NRVC participating states.]

Under the express terms of the Driver License Compact, the licensee’s state (state of issuance) is required to take reciprocal action under the terms of the licensee’s state law when receiving notice of violation taking place out of state. Alabama has been a member of the DLC since 1966. See, Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-6-30 et seq.

Nonresident Violator Compact (Existing): The Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC) is an interstate compact used by 45 states to process traffic citations across state borders. Motorists cited for violations in a state that is not a member of the NRVC must post bail before being allowed to proceed.

When a motorist is cited for a traffic violation in another member state and the motorist does not to respond to the citation (such as failure to appear in court or settle the case prior to court), the state where the violation occurred notifies the driver's home state and the home state will suspend the driver's license until the driver settles the case in the other state.

Driver License Agreement (Proposed/Pending): The Driver License Agreement (DLA) is a new interstate compact written by the Joint Executive Board of the Driver License Compact (DLC) and the Non-Resident Violator Compact (NRVC) with staff support provided by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA), a fifty state organization composed of motor vehicle and law enforcement administrators and executives6.

The goals of the DLA are to require each state to honor licenses issued by other member states; to require each state to report traffic convictions to the licensing state; to prohibit a member state from confiscating an out-of-state driver's license or jailing an out-of-state driver for a minor violation; and to require each state to maintain a complete driver's history, including withdrawals and traffic convictions including non-DLA states.

When a DLA member state receives a report concerning a licensee from a non-DLA member state, the member state will be required to treat the report the same as if it came from a member state. As with the previous compacts, the DLA requires a state to post all out-of-state traffic convictions to the driver's record, and the home state must apply its own laws to all out-of-state convictions. The DLA allows other jurisdictions to access motor vehicle records, in accordance with the Drivers' Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) which will not apply to foreign countries, and to transfer the driver's history if the driver transfers his license.

National Driver Register: The National Driver Register (NDR) is a computerized database managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation of information about drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations such as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. State driver license agencies provide the NDR with the names of individuals who have lost their privilege or who have been convicted of a serious traffic violation.

Problem Driver Pointer System: The PDPS is used to search the National Driver Register (NDR). This is a repository of information on problem drivers provided by all 51 U.S. jurisdictions. Based on information received as a result of an NDR search, PDPS will "point" the inquiring jurisdiction to the State of Record, where an individual's driver status and history information is stored. In conjunction with the Commercial Driver License Information System (CDLIS), PDPS will advise licensing authorities that the subject of the inquiry has a previous license removal action in another state.

Administrative License Suspension Act: This section of law (also called “Administrative License Revocation” by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is designed to quickly identify alcohol related traffic offenders based on chemical test results alone, and to subject the offender to prompt driver license suspension. Alabama’s administrative license suspension act became effective in 1996 and was re-written, generally to the benefit of the licensee, in 1999. The current version of the Act has several overlapping and competing issues that deal with the prior enacted Implied Consent statute and the current DUI statute.

The intended purpose of the Administrative License Suspension Act is to promptly remove the driver license of the arrested subject by an informal, non-judicial administrative process, and in so doing, eliminate the incentive for the arrested motorist to delay license removal while waiting for the final disposition of a criminal trial.

Implied Consent Law: The Implied Consent Law found at Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-5-192, was enacted in 1971 as mechanism to require compliance with the state’s Chemical Test for Intoxication Act. Much of the Implied Consent law has been superseded in application by the Administrative License Suspension Act; however, much of the important concepts remain in place:

  • The Implied Consent Law is an alcohol only statute; the Implied Consent Law has no application to controlled substances.
  • The motorist cannot be physically compelled to submit to a blood, breath, or urine sample; the only sanction for test refusal is an administrative license suspension.
  • If law enforcement authorities demand a blood sample, the motorist can lawfully refuse to submit to a blood draw and request the breath test or urine sample without repercussion to license. [Caveat: Under Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 16.2 (b), a law enforcement officer may secure a search warrant to obtain a blood sample, if such warrant is based on probable cause.]
  • The motorist must be told that refusal to submit to the breath test will result in suspension of license or privilege for a period of 90 days (or one year, if the second refusal in the past five years). If the motorist holds an out-of-state license, or is unlicensed, the Director is authorized to suspend the privilege to operate a vehicle on the public highways for test refusal.

1 Caveat: Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-5-316 authorizes “any court of competent jurisdiction” trying a case involving the operation of a motor vehicle and the violation of any criminal statute or ordinance to enter an order, in its discretion, forbidding the operation of a motor vehicle upon any public road or highway for a period specified by the court or perpetually, as the court may determine. In the 30+ years this editor has worked in traffic law/law enforcement, I have only seen one such court ordered entry and that was a DUI related fatality prosecuted as murder, and upon conviction, the trial court entered a lifetime revocation of driver license against the defendant.

2 Alabama enacted the Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1986 (CMVSA), with an effective date of 1989, as part of the national uniform system of classifying, testing, and licensing commercial vehicle operators. A class A license is required for a “combination” vehicle with a gross combination weight rating (GVWR) of 26,000 pounds or greater. A class B license is required for a single vehicle or combination vehicle that does not exceed 26,000 pounds GVWR. The vehicle in tow cannot exceed 10,000 pounds. A class C is required to operate a vehicle designed to transport 16 or more passenger or is placarded for hazardous materials or bio-waste.

In addition to the class A-B-C CDL classification, additional CDL endorsements are required for double/triple trailers, hazardous materials, and certain other specific transportation requirements. Federal regulations issued through the Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Safety Administration require a background check and fingerprinting for the hazardous materials endorsement.

3 An applicant for a class B intrastate CDL may be 18 years of age.

4 See, as example, Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-5A-195 (j): Revocation of driver license or privilege is a mandatory duty of the Director of Public Safety upon receiving a record of conviction of any of the following offenses:

  • Manslaughter or homicide by vehicle
  • Second or subsequent conviction within a five-year period for driving under the influence
  • Any felony in which a motor vehicle was used
  • Failure to stop (‘Leaving the Scene of an Accident’) resulting in the death or injury of another [See, also, Code section 32-10-1 requiring the revocation of license for any ‘leaving the scene’ conviction, to include property damage only.]
  • Perjury or making a false affidavit to the Director of Public Safety in any driver license or registration requirement
  • Conviction of three (3) charges of reckless driving within a period of 12 months
  • Unauthorized use of a motor vehicle that does not result in a felony conviction

5 Under the Code of Alabama, 1975, section 32-7-31, the Director of Public Safety shall require proof of financial responsibility for a period of three years from the date of any revocation order. This is commonly referred to as the SR-22 requirement, and requires the motorist to post certificate of SR-22 insurance with the Safety Responsibility Unit of the Department of Public Safety prior to being eligible for re-licensing.

6 The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that develops and coordinates model programs in motor vehicle administration, law enforcement and highway safety. The association also serves as an information clearinghouse in these areas, and acts as the international spokesman for these interests.

Founded in 1933, AAMVA represents the state and provincial officials in the United States and Canada who administer and enforce motor vehicle laws. AAMVA’s programs encourage uniformity and reciprocity among the states and provinces. The association also serves as a liaison with other levels of government and the private sector.